For all Joy wants Eternity
Slowly, Severus raised his hands to reservedly join the applause that followed the Sorting Hat's call. A blonde girl, beaming, ran over to the frantically cheering Ravenclaw table and was welcomed by innumerable hands that reached out to squeeze her own or to clap her shoulders. She had been the last of this term's First Years' to be sorted, and when Minerva went to the right side of the Great Hall to carry away the Sorting Hat, the Slytherin heard a chair being pushed back, and then Albus's warm voice officially opening the feast - and thus the new school year as well. Severus greatly appreciated the fact that the Headmaster had stuck to the Hogwarts rituals, including the traditional banquet at the beginning of the school year. There had been voices that had demanded a less cheerful start into the term, as during the summer, the first noticeable effects of the Dark Lord's return had taken place. The spy clearly remembered the violent shock wave that had ripped through the magical community when at the beginning of August, the first victims had vanished from their midst, not to return thus far, nor would they ever, nor had they remained the only ones to disappear. So far, one witch and three wizards had fallen victim to the Dark Lord, and still, the Ministry was dwelling on pathetic attempts to set the growing fears to rest. Still, a great part of the wizarding community refused to see the truth and readily fell for all the twisted explanations Fudge and his subalterns came up with. And yet, even though only a minority was courageous enough to face the horrible reality of the Dark Lord's return to power, there seemed to be something like a common, instinctive trust among most wizards and witches in Dumbledore and the safety of Hogwarts. Even though the Headmaster had repeatedly and officially voiced his still uncommon - or rather unwanted - confirmation that Voldemort had returned at the end of the previous term, there hadn't been a single pair of parents that would not have sent their child or children back to Hogwarts this fall. Severus was quite positive that deep inside they all already knew, although the desperate hope for all this not to be true still kept them from rationally accepting what their intuition already had. This hidden knowledge was the reason why they wanted their children to be in the safest place they could ever be. Why they wanted them to be at Hogwarts, especially now. Why they wanted them to be exactly where Albus Dumbledore was, whether their sons and daughters were in Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw, or Gryffindor, or...
Involuntarily, the spy's gaze was drawn to the Slytherin table. To his house. His house in so many aspects...It had embraced him during his youth, during the few years of mindlessness, before it had become witness to his discontent, his inner struggles, his disruption and momentous decisions. It had been shelter to him afterwards, when he had been sure that he was not able to deal with working for both sides anymore, when the rejection had become unbearable, when there had been nothing he had wanted more than to shed his skin like the green and silver Serpent that had helped him tremendously to deal with such times of desperation.
But Slytherin was also his responsibility. He was responsible for every single one of those young faces. He was responsible to the wizarding world. It was his self-imposed duty, a deliberately chosen additional struggle he had to fight and which he must not lose. As he must not lose any of the combats he was caught in, even though he knew that he was fighting a losing battle here, as he did at all of the fronts he was striving at in this desperate war. How was he supposed to succeed against the doom of self-fulfilling prophecy? How could he ever defeat the far-reaching designs of the older Malfoys, Crabbes and Goyles? How could he make those proud and self-assured children see the abysses the Dark had in store for them? How could he encourage them to open their eyes to the alternatives, if those who were endangered most were sure that their Head of House was on Voldemort's side anyway?
Their Head of House, who didn't know himself for how much longer he would be able to keep up the charade that he had got himself into. Severus knew that the summer months just past had been only a foretaste of what was yet to come, and still, it had taken all of his determination so far to let him keep up with the demands of the Order's meetings, the time with Voldemort and his Death Eaters, the time with Voldemort alone, the hours of despair, the minutes of fear, the moments of doubt...
Time had become a kind of fifth element for him. For Severus, it wasn't only earth, wind, fire and water anymore that gave birth to all that existed. His own existence was evidence for that, now that it was affected and shaped by time more than by anything else. He counted the minutes he had to spend with Dumbledore, minutes during which he could receive the Dark Lord's call, minutes that could keep him from arriving in time at Voldemort's side, minutes that would provoke the Dark Lord's rage and that could mean punishment, and pain. If the spy had been aware of it, his unconscious need and urge to follow Voldemort's calls as quickly as possible would have frightened and shocked him, just as his secret wish to unlimitedly extend every Death Eater's meeting would have. The time he spent under the mask now represented the most precious reprieve of all, before hell would open again and the devil himself would rise to take him for hours. Hours that became days, and weeks, and months. Months that would turn into years. Years that would grow to become decades. Decades that would last forever... Severus called his annoyingly disobedient brain to order and leaned back in his chair. Try as he might, it became more difficult with every day to follow his own instructions and let the ritual and all its consequences rest untouched somewhere in the back of his head. His weariness that grew stronger all the time allowed the despair and fear that were connected with the three symbols on his chest to seep into his consciousness and poison his thoughts much too often. And with the beginning of the school year, now that his life of being a double agent and physical slave to Voldemort would be hampered even more by the duties of teaching and leading Slytherin House, his mental shields against the reality of the ritual would soon be nothing but a pathetic, hole-riddled sieve.
It had been this damned summer. This summer, which had almost been too much for him. Expectations too high, too much tactical manoeuvring, too much unbearable helplessness, too many painful accusations. It hadn't just been Dumbledore expecting him to deliver useful information or the fact that he had been forced to witness the torture and death of four persons so far, without being able to prevent *anything*. No, those were aspects of being a spy that he would somehow learn to deal with again. He had already done so when he had first worked as a double agent after all. But now, he also had to decide what he could tell the Dark Lord about Albus's activities without raising suspicion of concealing something, but without causing harm beyond repair to the Order's case at the same time. Since he now attended the Order's meetings as well, he had been exposed to the silent and maybe unconscious reproaches, contempt and rejection the other members of the Order felt for the one they knew had passively watched the killing of innocent witches and wizards. For the one who had to submit and give his body over and over again. Who had to surrender to the only man in the world who was now able to touch Severus without sending him into millions of boiling pieces. Into the fragments of glittering ice, which that bright flash of painless violence always smashed his consciousness into, as soon as he felt anyone else's body encounter his own.
But quite fortunately, this was something nobody knew about so far. And Severus was dead-determined to keep it that way. The spy knew that he was not able to entirely prevent the changes in his life from showing. He felt that this summer had taken years away from him, and the few times he accidentally happened to look into a mirror confirmed this suspicion. On the other hand, it wasn't too difficult to blame the deepening lines at his mouth's sides, the sunken eyes, bloodless lips and cavernous cheeks on nothing but physical and mental exhaustion. And even though Severus was very aware of Albus's ever-growing concern and unerring intuition that something was not right *at all* with his spy, as clearly as he noticed Minerva's sharp eyes that never quite left him as soon as they were in the same room together, he knew that only his telling would reveal his secret.
And he would rather die than do so.
There was one person, though, who was not fooled that easily.
Even though Severus had no definite idea what it was that the werewolf knew, it was more than clear that Lupin was aware of a lot more than would suit the Slytherin. They hadn't really talked again since the incident with the mask at the beginning of summer, but it had not been possible to entirely avoid the shape-shifter either. During the holidays, they had met every day for the meals that the remaining staff had taken together in the Great Hall as usual, and the increasing number of meetings of the Order had additionally contributed to their seeing each other probably more often than they had when Lupin still had been teacher at Hogwarts. And since Severus had agreed to concoct the Wolfsbane Potion again whenever necessary (just as it would be tonight), there really hadn't been the slightest chance to not see the werewolf on a regular basis during summer.
But now that school had started again, Lupin and Black would need to be much more careful not to be discovered than had been necessary without any students in the castle. So facing the werewolf and his probing gaze would only happen at the Order's meetings, or when he had to deliver his potion, and this was a remarkable improvement of the situation! Severus knew that Lupin wanted to talk about certain things he, Severus, was not willing to even think about. It still was a mystery to the spy why the werewolf had thought him to be somebody else when they had met for the first time in a year in the Shrieking Shack, shortly after the beginning of the summer holidays, and he also wondered what Lupin had seen or perceived the day after, when he had shown up at his door to hand over the mask he had found. But Severus had been able to tell from the shape-shifter's horrified eyes that his sharp and subtle senses had scented something that Voldemort's ritual must have left upon the body that he, Severus, now possessed. Something that us didn't want to know about. He knew all that it was necessary to know by now. About the ritual, the symbols, the consequences...he had no intention at all to go into the details of what had happened to him. During their unequal fight in the Shrieking Shack, Lupin had already managed to reveal, although totally unintentionally, what it would mean from now on if someone other than the Dark Lord touched the twice-marked and claimed Slytherin. Severus had no desire at all to come to know more and less still should it be from the werewolf. Lupin had told him enough. More than enough.
It was almost alarming anyway to think about the immensely meaningful role the shape-shifter had so far played in the spy's life. Aside from Voldemort himself, the werewolf had been the only man who had managed to teach him about true fear, and he had done so *twice*. And even though Severus knew that Lupin was not to blame for the first, nor for the second time, the angst that had always been part of the feelings that awoke inside him when he thought of the werewolf had increased remarkably this summer. He would never forget about the night that he had first stumbled through the tunnel beneath the Whomping Willow as a school boy, nor when he had done so only a few months ago. Both times driven by purest panic and fear for his life. Both times caused by Remus Lupin. The first time because he had seen, the second time because he had touched, him. So far, this man, who had left his marks upon his life as only very few others had, had meant nothing but hurt. As too many others had...
"Some mashed potatoes, Severus?"
The spy didn't even look up.
"I'm not hungry at all, Professor Fletcher."
Obviously, neither the negative answer nor the Slytherin's more than exasperated voice seemed to put his left neighbour at table off. Unfortunately. Mundungus Fletcher, new teacher of Defence against the Dark Arts this school year, went on as cheerfully as he had begun the conversation.
"Really, Severus, if I remember correctly, you've been among those who have strongly recommended the annual opening feast to take place. And now you're simply missing out on all of the magnificent food? You can't be serious!"
It was only then, exactly at this moment, that Minerva leaned forward to ask for the potatoes, and thus kept Severus from getting rid of the acid retort that had been waiting on the tip of his tongue, more than ready to be voiced. Forcing himself to calm down and remember that it would *not* do to spoil the opening feast by losing control, the spy took a very deep, deliberate breath and tried to relax - something that had always been a rather difficult task for him. With the events of the summer gnawing at his mind and soul, it was impossible.
The aggressive irritation he felt continued building during the rest of the banquet. When Dumbledore got up to address the students with a short, but impressive speech about the demands and likely dangers of the school year they were facing, the petulant uneasiness that had taken hold of Severus had become physical, a maddening prickling crawling through his veins; and by the time Albus dismissed the students to their common rooms, the Slytherin's muscles were twitching and ticcing, pressing against the pall of burning, itching skin from the inside. He owed it only to his iron will that he managed to remain on his seat until the last student had left the Great Hall; and nothing but his invincible pride made him take his own leave with almost the same degree of dignity and arrogance he usually displayed, instead of simply jumping up from his chair and *running* down to the dungeons. He certainly felt a most absurd urge to do exactly that! To kick the suits of armour that he passed, to tear down at least one of those unnervingly grinning portraits, to yell at *anybody*, to smash anything into countless pieces...
But when he had slammed the door shut behind him, coming to a halt in the middle of the room, surrounded by steaming, gurgling flasks, familiar cauldrons, vials, bottles and the smells he knew so well, when he began to work with abrupt and violent movements at the potion he would have to deliver tonight to grant the werewolf a painless full moon, the awareness that the mood he was in now was anything but a promising precondition to either dependably concocting the complex potion, or dealing with meeting Lupin later, slowly prevailed against the swirling haze of anger. Severus let go of the roots he had just started to chop, put away the knife and, after some short consideration, left the laboratory again. As well as the dungeons. And the castle.
He had lost about half an hour when he closed the door to his laboratory for the second time this evening. Half an hour that he had spent walking down to his secret place by the lake and watching the dark, velvety surface of the waters, so very soothing in the constant recurrence of their gentle movements. Half an hour, after which he now finally felt ready to deal with the demanding task of brewing a correct Wolfsbane Potion. Half an hour that had been worth spending in the attempt to regain control of his emotions. Half an hour that would hurt no one.
If he had only known how *very* wrong he was about that!
The sudden pain in his left forearm made his hand stop moving in midair. Five fingers clenched around nothing as he swallowed hard so as not have to scream during the first, and always worst, blaze of the bright, summoning fire that the Dark Mark had burst into.
No! Oh no, not now! For the Sirens' sweet voices, not now...
Instinctively, his right hand took on the task his left was unable to do anymore and removed the cauldron from the fire. Severus absent-mindedly registered the boiling liquid inside of it, saw how the bubbles it formed became smaller and smaller, just as they were supposed to, while dark thoughts raced behind his dark eyes. He wasn't finished yet! The Wolfsbane needed to cool down for another five minutes, and then to be stirred for the same length of time again. Otherwise it would be effect- and thus worth- less. But that meant ten more minutes. Ten minutes he didn't have! A delay of ten minutes he couldn't afford! Not to think about the time it would take to get the potion to Lupin's quarters in the East Tower...No, it was impossible; he wouldn't be able to do it and make it to the Death Eater's meeting on time as well. Impossible, simply impossible, impossible...
The Slytherin tried to force his brain back to working coherently. There had to be a way to get out of this. He knew there was one.
Hadn't the werewolf been assigned to those rooms in the highest floor of the rarely used Tower because Dumbledore wanted to keep history from repeating itself - and because of emergencies exactly like this? To make sure that Lupin would have no chance to endanger anyone again if, for whatever reasons, he was unable to take the Wolfsbane Potion? This was why those quarters had been chosen: because of the heavily trellised and very high windows. This was why the room's door locked itself with some of the strongest magical wards known to the wizarding world with the rise of the full moon; this was why soundproofing spells had been put up and why Black spent all the full-moon nights with his werewolf friend up there, in his Animagus form.
The Wolfsbane wasn't vital to disarm the wolf in Remus Lupin. Not this time. Dumbledore had seen to it. Severus pulled himself together. What was he thinking of? Why was he still standing here? The only thing that was more important than to not provoke the Dark Lord's rage by being late was not at stake! So why, in Slytherin's name, wasn't he already on his way to prepare for the meeting, if the safety of the castle did *not* depend on him?
Because Lupin's only chance to avoid suffering did.
Severus could not believe that this particular thought had just crossed his mind.
Now, that was simply ridiculous. No, it was worse! He lacked the scruples to look after his own entirety first, because Lupin would have to spend some moments of pain if he did so, right? How soft had he gone during this summer? So the werewolf would have to do without his potion for once-so what? He had done so for a year now and he had survived without it before he had come to Hogwarts as a teacher, so what was the point?
That Lupin had been forced to endure those times without the Wolfsbane because there had been no one who would have been able to concoct it for him.
But now there was.
The Slytherin closed his eyes in mental agony, unable to believe that it was as simple as that, that it all really did come down to *this*. Could it indeed be about nothing else but the question whether he was ready to finish the potion that was still cooling on the table in front of him or not? Was it really a simple choice between the consequences that would embrace pain and horror in any case, no matter which way he'd chose to proceed from here? Had he truly just to decide which of them, Lupin or himself, he preferred to hand over to suffering tonight? With a raw cry that vibrated with fierce frustration and blind rage about the painfully hopeless situation he was in, Severus grabbed the first thing close enough to hand and smashed it into the closed door with all the violence and force his helpless anger came up with. Watching the small bottle erupting into a fountain of of glass droplets that rained down to the floor in a glittering cloud, he took one hissing breath - and turning around to the table, ignoring the still forceful flames burning his left forearm, reached for the ladle that laid to the left of the still steaming cauldron.
It was Black who opened the not yet spell-locked door to him exactly seven minutes later.
Two scornful glances, the one as cold and forbidding as the other, collided in mid-air and wedged against one another. The air between them was shivering with aggression from the first moment of their confrontation - obviously, Severus hadn't been the only one consumed with irritability this evening. And maybe only the fact that Remus Lupin showed up immediately after Black had opened the door kept the Animagus from doing more than growling "You're late!" in Severus's direction.
As far as the spy was concerned, he had no interest at all in getting involved in a time-consuming fight with either the dog or the wolf. The pain of the Dark Mark's call had been renewed just moments ago, a clear sign that Voldemort had grown more than merely impatient by now. Ignoring Black, he turned towards Lupin, holding out the already familiar mug to him.
He was greeted by two questioning, worried eyes. Cursing the werewolf's sensitive perception in all the tongues that he knew, Severus steeled himself against the profound concern he could read in Lupin's gaze.
"It's a little more than usual, Lupin. You know you should drink it while it's still warm, so don't waste any time. Tonight, I...there won't be the possibility of getting a second helping tonight, so try for once not to spill anything and better drink all of it, just to be on the safe side."
Another sharp rip of pain in his arm. Another flash of sympathy from the werewolf, who was gently taking the mug from his hand, hit him almost simultaneously.
"What's wrong with you, Snape, added miserliness to all those lovely attributes of your benevolent being?"
Severus wasn't able to return Black's gibe; the pain went on and on and forced his teeth down onto his lower lip. Oh yes, it was time to go; it was more than past time actually...
The werewolf's compassionate voice.
"Thank you, Severus."
"Not at all, Lupin."
The almost traditional dialogue that always ended the potion's handing-over between them escorted Severus back down to the dungeons on his way to his quarters, to the hidden closet, to the meeting for which he would be much too late. He tried very hard not to think about the punishment that he knew the Dark Lord would have in store for him.
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